National News

Two-day Indigenous identity fraud summit kicks off in Winnipeg

By The Canadian Press

Published 10:36 PDT, Tue May 14, 2024

A two-day summit that kicked off in Winnipeg today will hear from Indigenous leaders across the country on how they're reacting to — and can come together to fix — what they call Indigenous identity fraud.

Co-hosted by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, the summit also includes Inuit and Innu leaders who have raised concerns about the topic in their respective jurisdictions.

One of the topics up for discussion is Bill C-53, a federal piece of legislation that seeks to formally recognize Métis governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. 

The bill is hotly contested by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Chiefs of Ontario, who say the inclusion of Métis Nation of Ontario threatens their rights — and who question the validity of the organization altogether.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod, who is a vocal opponent of the legislation and the organization, spoke at the summit about growing up in his community in the 1960s and '70s, when elders were wary of sharing culture with younger generations for fear of repercussions from the federal government.

"I struggled for years to reclaim that (knowledge)," McLeod said, wearing a shirt that said "Say No To Bill C-53."

But today, he said, there's a different crisis.

"We're struggling with people who are trying to be us," he said. "We've been struggling for over 400 years now to maintain our identity, and this is just another branch of that battle."

Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh has long defended her organization, and says she has been consistently denied requests to meet with First Nations leaders in Ontario to make amends and explain the history of Métis in the province.

In a letter to Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand in early May, Froh requested a speaking role during the summit, saying it could be an opportunity to “correct the record on the history, existence, and relationships between the Métis communities in Ontario and the broader Métis Nation.”

In another letter to Métis Nation of Ontario members this month, Froh said in the face of the Manitoba Métis Federation’s “continued and calculated campaign to erase the history of Métis communities in Ontario,” it’s important to share stories “rooted in facts.”

The Ontario organization began releasing short videos attempting to do just that, including one about Métis in the Sault Ste. Marie area, and is encouraging members to share those videos.

Speaking at the summit, Chartrand blasted the organization, saying, "Times are changing, and now everyone wants to jump in the Red River cart." He highlighted the historical resistance of Métis in Manitoba, including through their late leader Louis Riel, and urged First Nations in Ontario to join in their fight against what he called identity fraud.

"We will shake the foundations of the political engine of this country … We are ready to do this battle, and we're not poor anymore."

Froh sent a notice to media today about Métis identity, criticizing the "concerning trend regarding the portrayal and blatant misrepresentation of Métis people, history, and rights in some Canadian media outlets."

Beyond Métis in Ontario, the summit will also hear about "illegitimate and shifting claims to Indigeneity" in Eastern Canada, according to Inuit and Innu leaders.

– Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press 

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